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The Week in Books: Oct 6-12

October 15, 2013

I got two new bookcases for my birthday and they are already filled and I’m still looking at two more boxes of books that haven’t been unpacked, at least.  So today my bff got me another bookcase, but since he lives in NJ I have to pick it up at the store.  Yay!  So we’ll do that this evening, and maybe then I’ll be done with the books.  In my defense, my husband took the to-read double-stacks and put them on another case on their own, stating that, for some reason, the bookcase would be destroyed and it would all be my fault for not taking the weight into consideration.  If I can make a bridge out of popsicle sticks and pile encyclopedias on it, then a bookcase should be able to handle all those books.  And I did put mostly hardcovers on the bottom shelf!  Anyway, I also put his SUPER HEAVY gaming books on my new bookcase, and they take up TWO WHOLE SHELVES.  (I was only allowed to put them on certain shelves, because of this crazy weight thing.)  But hey, with one more bookcase, probably THE FINAL BOOKCASE (like Sarah Crewe’s Last Doll), I should be set.  No really.  I swear.  The to-reads have a stay rate of 1 in 3.  They can’t all be winners.

Speaking of, I actually said “Screw this; life is too short” with TWO books in the past week and a half.  I will get to one of them in this post.

On with the books!

First, I read my book club’s selection for this month, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by actor Albert Brooks.  I usually like to leave my comments on a book for the book club and recreate them later here, but whatever, man.  I can copy and paste in either direction, right?  I remember critics loving this book and I cannot figure out why, unless those critics are old white dudes who want to pat Albert Brooks on the back or various other parts.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good things about this book, but they are balanced out by a lot of things that are less good.  Unfortunately, this is not one of those instances where good + less good = pretty good.  Instead, the book leaves you with the desire to tear it to shreds because it didn’t live up to expectations it created.

2030 extrapolates our current monetary crisis and takes it down a path that seems, for the most part, credible.  However, what Brooks fails to do is take actual human beings into account.  You could say, “But he has all these characters!”  Well, you skim the surface with each of them.  At no time does the book extrapolate, say, race issues or gay marriage, which makes his world seem oddly flat.  Class issues are boiled down to one thing: the economy, which is dealt with by mentioning unemployment often but not really getting much into it–and certainly not job creation–and then a war between the “olds” and the young, who don’t want to spend all their money on caring for those that medical advancement can keep going far beyond what they–either “they”–can afford.

This is where the book shines, with the rising tension between the age groups and the president who sees the problem but can’t figure out a good way to address it without jeopardizing his run for a second term.  However, Brooks continues to give us massive infodump far into the book, piling paragraphs of back story where none is needed, killing that tension.

And then there are the names, which I complained about before.  The youngest character in the book is born in 2002; she should not have a name popular in the 1970s.

So, disappointing but not bad.

Next I read Missing Since Monday, an old Ann M. Martin non-BSC book that takes you step by step through the process of what you need to do if a child disappears.  Despite that, it still manages to be less heavy-handed than Judd Winick writing The Outsiders with that guy from that TV show.  I enjoyed the book and miss those how-to types of young adult fiction.  Fiction with a message.  I worry that there’s nothing for readers who are beyond J but not ready for the darkness of popular Y fiction.  Also, forget trying to figure out a name for J books and call it J-lit.  Unless the manga people have already taken that name?  Anyway, I thought I’d lose my stuff reading about a little kid disappearing, but Martin does a great job of making the book only as scary as it needs to be.  And I love the dynamic between the narrator and the stepmother.

Next, I read one from my husband: The Sinister Lake Game, a modified version of one of the Famous Five books.  I was completely clueless about the series, except having heard the name Enid Blyton before, OF COURSE, but this is part book/part game, and all fail.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure there are kids who love this thing, but when I think of my kids at the library, when they’re reading for a book of that size, they want a little more than what the game gives you.  For example, you start with three provisions and one item of your choice.  I chose the map because it made perfect sense to me that a map would get you places.  Did I use the map?  No.  Utter fail.  My provisions, which you can see as akin to video games lives, were gone right away.  While this is a bummer, the game accounts for it BUT does it poorly.  So, say you don’t have the thing needed.  You can sometimes but not always make a guess.  The guess becomes SOMEWHAT educated if you’ve played before (the ruler tool measures “paces” so once you have an idea of what the paces are, you sometimes can guess well if the options are far-placed), but on your first time through?  Screw it.

The story itself is like a Choose Your Own Adventure as written by coffee-fueled children with ADHD.  You’re never reading more than a few lines at a time, which I guess tells you the age range of the reader, but to me, it’s a huge mistake.  You’re constantly flipping pages–CONSTANTLY.  You spend more time trying to find what page you’re supposed to be on than you are actually spending with the book.

But these paragraphs aren’t even well-placed!  As I said, with the wrong tools, you fail quickly, but the book, KNOWING YOU SCREWED UP THE LAST TIME YOU USED THE TOOL YOU DIDN’T HAVE, WILL ASK YOU TO USE THE TOOL AGAIN a few flips later.  The ability to gain or lose tools is so spare that you spend most of the time guessing.  And I truly loathe the idea that you’re trying to solve a “mystery” but you’re guessing more than half the time.

Speaking of, I put mystery in quotes for a reason.  If there’s a mystery to be solved here, it’s surely handed to you on a silver platter.  I still wasn’t really sure what was going on, because I certainly didn’t have enough time with each element of the story to know what was going on.  I was too busy eating sandwiches.  What I can tell you is that something’s missing, there’s a helicopter, and I only knew of two suspects, who were together as a pair and ended up being the ones who did it.  Well.  Wow.  What a mystery.

The final annoyance is that you don’t even have the ability to make any of the calls on your own.  The ruler measures things.  The code translator just rests over the words and takes out the unnecessary letters.  At least you read the map yourself, sort of.  But the worst of it is the die.  You roll it to determine whose idea to follow.  Even the dog’s.  (At least he’s sniffing something out.)  You don’t even get to say, “Hey, I think George has the best idea.”  (Is Nancy Drew’s George supposed to be a Famous Five reference?)  You never know what the ideas are.  You just roll.

At least kids could make SOME decision then, you know?  Instead of being led around the whole time.  I think that would’ve made it okay for me.  It would’ve felt like something a kid could decide for themselves and felt good about even if they didn’t choose correctly.  It would be some level of agency.  Mysteries should engage the reader.  I guess the game pieces are meant to do that, but it’s like handing a book to someone and having all the clues underlined.  Or worse, not having any clues given at all and finding out who did it in the end.  That’s just not satisfying.

After that, I tried Saving Faith again, a thriller or something by David Baldacci.  I think I made it one hundred pages in before I gave up.  I know people looooove Baldacci and I just don’t get it.  I think his writing is flat-out bad in this book.  His sentence structure can be incredibly awkward.  He infodumps a lot but none of it makes any sense, unless I guess you know a lot about how the government works?  I don’t, actually.  I don’t know much about lobbyists or why the CIA would hate the FBI.  Baldacci waits chapters to explain it, sort of, when the character who represents this most clearly was introduced on the first or second page.  He ignores throwing names at you so you can connect them later, which is bad for my imagination.  JUST USE THE NAMES.  Is this the lazy writer’s way of REVEALING LATER WHO WAS THERE IN THE BEGINNING?  To me, a good thriller should work like a good movie, because really that’s all most writers are going for anyway.  They should be visual.  Don’t avoid telling me who’s in the room unless they’re all masked, or purposely in darkness, or whatever.  Anyway, I just gave up.  It seemed to me that two characters were heading for a romance and I checked the last page–I’ve never done that in my LIFE, I think–and ta-da.

Also!!!!!  If you are describing two people as having a father/daughter-type relationship, OMG, you do not describe any part of one of them as “sensual” when you are writing from the other’s perspective.  Just cuz you want to bang your character doesn’t mean he does. Unless he does, but then why tell us over and over that they are like father and daughter?

I just couldn’t make it through, y’all.  Adios, book.

Finally, I read the book I got signed by Gordon “I’m sorry I called you a bastard, mister” Korman, which is either called The Hypnotists or Hypnotize Me.  The ARC is a little confusing about that.  I think maybe it was supposed to be the latter and then they went with the former, which is a better title anyway.

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Gordon Korman laughs at me calling him a bastard (because he was published at such a young age), while signing my book.

The Hypnotists is a great J-lit book about a kid who can hypnotize people without meaning to.  He’s picked up by a mysterious “institute” which may be doing more harm than good.  I love the main character, his cluelessness and his insights, his great bff–pretty much everyone in this book.  Korman has come a long way from the books he wrote when I was growing up; his voice is less comedic and more authentic, but without sacrificing humor, if that makes sense.  Very fast read; highly recommended for middle schoolers, especially reluctant readers, and, I guess if you want to get all sexist about it, boys.  (Look, they were raised that way anyway, so you gotta work with what you got.)

So that was last week.  Next week’s post on this week: another book I want nothing to do with, lesbian porn (look, I’ll read anything once), and maybe I’ll finish that book I got for someone else but have been hoarding because I’ve heard such good things about it.

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